In my quirky little mind I’ve always associated runners’ accomplishments with professional credentials. Instead of PhD, or Esq. my imaginary business card reads: Kathleen Lau. Runner, Half marathoner, Marathoner, Boston finisher. My most recent addition? Mother runner. At first I thought it was just a catchy phrase, something to slap on t-shirts and throw behind a hashtag. But then I started to live it. And although I am just a little over 4 months into this new title, I understand now that it is so much more than a trendy bumper sticker.
It’s that first postpartum run, where your legs resemble Bambi, but your body has more of a Dumbo feel. It’s trying on sports bras in sizes you thought were reserved exclusively for porn stars. Only having to make the mistake once of heading out for a run without emptying the tanks. It’s stuffing your postpartum body into the workout clothes you wore before you got pregnant, and wondering how on earth spandex can feel so restrictive. It’s standing in front of a mirror, trying to drown out those critical voices by reminding yourself over and over again that your body has done a lot of work to grow and nourish a child over the past year.
It’s the feeling you get as you walk in from that first run. The rush of endorphins, the heavy breathing, the taste of sweat above your lip. Suddenly it all comes back to you. Makes you feel whole again, makes you feel like YOU again. In the darkness of those first weeks and months, it’s a beacon of light in the dark ocean that is nursing, soothing, diaper changing. It keeps you from drowning.
It’s passing a screaming baby off to your husband the moment he walks in the door, because you just need 2 miles so that you can be mom again tomorrow. It’s when Friday night becomes “you time”, when you can get in a run without worrying about what you need to do for the next day. It’s pushing through those last 10 seconds because you know that as hard as it is to put one foot in front of the other, it’s one step closer to your old self. That every run will get a little easier. It’s the goosebumps you get as you crawl across your first postpartum finish line. The clock that doesn’t read a painfully slow finish time but instead blinks a subliminal message… “You’ve still got this”.
It’s pointing out all your favorite running routes to your son in the car, when you know he can’t see more than passing images through the window. It’s that first time you head out with the running stroller, when you spend the majority of the time trying to figure out what the heck you’re supposed to do with your hands.
It’s the new and improved Sunday morning run. When it’s just you and him. When instead of plugging in headphones, your run is narrated by the sound of the wheels hitting the pavement and your heavy breathing. When you peer into the stroller to find a sleeping baby. Relaxed and content because somehow even he understands how therapeutic running can be. It’s knowing that even though he may not remember this moment, you know that you are setting an example for the rest of his life. Mom runs, mom is strong, mom can do hard things.
Sunday is my very first Mother’s Day. And of course, I couldn’t imagine starting it with anything other than a run. It will be Riley and I’s first race together (since he’s been on the outside anyway). Something I’ve dreamed about since the day that little line showed up on a pee stick. And for once I won’t be chasing a time clock. I won’t have a playlist in my ears heck, I probably won’t even wear a watch. On Sunday, that finish line is about me and my little guy sharing this special thing. It’s about earning that shiny new title, mother runner.
For the past five years April 4th has had a special place in my heart. It is the a day that I like to step back and look at my journey and accomplishments. It’s a day I celebrate PRs, smaller jean sizes, and goals that at one point in my life never seemed possible.
This year, April 4th feels heavy. Literally. For the first time in five years, when I look in the mirror, I see the same girl who walked into that first consultation. It’s hard to think back on the last five years of hard work and not feel sadness. It’s hard to ignore that pile of clothes in my closet that don’t fit anymore, or how my speediest run pace is a solid two minutes slower than what an “easy day” used to feel like. I feel even worse when I look at pictures of this little guy my body created and carried, and instead of focusing on his adorable smile, I can’t stop cringing at my own body.
But throughout these ups and more recent downs of the last five years, one thing has remained constant. It became apparent to me one day recently as I pulled out my long sleeve, lime green shirt to go for a run. This same shirt has magically fit me when I ran my first half marathon at my lowest weight, when I went for my last pregnant run at 28 weeks, and now as I try to navigate my way to my new role as a mother runner. It doesn’t matter where I am in my journey, it always fits.
This one (very smelly) green shirt stands for so much more. It is my foundation, it’s what got me to where I am today. It is home to me. The friendships I’ve made, the guidance, the therapy sessions, the ass kickings, they’ve been there for every step over the last five years. And no matter where I am in my journey, they’re always there to support me. They’ve seen me through my first mile I ever ran, white dress workouts, crossing the finish line on Boylston Street, and burpee modifications as my belly grew. It’s pretty incredible when you step back and think about it.
This April 4th may look a little different, but I keep telling myself it’s just another page in my book. A new chapter in my story. It’s a new starting point. Today is a reminder of where I’ve come from, what I can achieve, and the incredible supports I have behind me.
Here’s to the next five years. 🙂
Hello? Hello? Is this thing on?
Oh hi there, remember me? Last time we met up here I had just
crossed crawled over the Boston Marathon finish line and was living the life in runner’s Narnia. It’s hard to believe that was almost two years ago now.
So where have I been since then? Well fast forward exactly one year later and I found myself sucking air during the BAA 5K, a complete 180 from my athletic feat the year before. When I woke up the next morning and went for another sluggish six miler I started to realize how sore my boobs were. Somewhere in the middle of the day I decided to take a pregnancy test. And on the morning of Christmas Eve….
Riley Parker entered our lives. 9 pounds, 4 ounces, hair for days, and eyes that could look right into your soul. It’s been almost three months since we met face to face and I every night as I rock him to sleep I look at every perfect little feature, amazed that he is mine.
I was blessed to have a relatively easy pregnancy physically, but mentally and emotionally it was a tough 40 weeks. After all my body had been through and achieved over the last four years the thought of undoing all of that while growing a human terrified me. And while I always knew I wanted to have kids, it took me some time to accept that I no longer had control over my own body. As a first time mom you don’t really look “pregnant” until the 6th or 7th month, but I could feel my body changing in small ways almost overnight. It constantly put me into panic mode. So at the end of my first trimester I made the executive decision that I no longer wanted to know how much weight I had gained, I only wanted to know if it was becoming a concern.
And so I ventured on. I ran until I was 28 weeks, completing 6 road races with my little buddy inside. I continued to strength train several times a week, and I was in the pool just two days before my water broke.
I ate, as conservatively as a pregnant girl often does; chicken became an enemy pretty early on, bagels were constantly on my mind, and my afternoon snacks consisted of peanut butter and fluff. I’ll admit I got pretty lenient towards the end, more lenient that I have been with myself in a very long time. I can very clearly remember parking my big belly on the couch the night before my due date with a bowl of peppermint stick ice cream (which in real life I don’t even LIKE!) and some holiday Joe Joes. “Eh, what does it matter at this point – I’ll deal with it once this baby is here”. Looking back now I can be honest with myself and say that I was eating to deal with how I was feeling about being 40 weeks pregnant, becoming a first time mom, and missing my active self. Old habits die hard. I’ve never considered myself thin, but looking at old race pictures made me realize how true it is that you don’t know what you have until it’s gone.
No one prepared me enough for just how foreign my body would feel those first few days after giving birth. My feet had ballooned due to all of the fluids I was given, my hips seemed wider, my boobs had reached porn star status (medium nursing tanks? THAT was a joke) and my stomach was a numb ball of putty. And to top it all off, I had this lovely Frankenstein-esque scar across my abdomen from ending up with a c-section. I remember comparing my body to the caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland. It was definitely hard to swallow what I saw in the mirror.
I gave myself the “I just had a baby” card and told myself I would deal with it after my 6 week checkup, when I was finally given the golden ticket to exercise again. To pass the time until then I spent Saturday mornings walking laps around the indoor track, cringing that I was still wearing my maternity workout pants and cursing the toned, athletic women running by. Was it just my imagination or was I once one of them? That girl who I had been just 9 months ago seemed like a very far off memory. And I continued on with my baby diet postpartum because, duh, breastfeeding.
A few nights before my doctors appointment I decided to bite the bullet and look at the damage. I sat down at my computer, clicked into my provider’s online portal… and there it was. I had to blink a few times just to make sure I was reading the right line and then my heart sunk and I started to cry. I had gained a total of 56 pounds from my last pre-pregnancy weight. I was almost back to my starting weight from years ago. The weight I swore I would never see again. My biggest fears of getting pregnant had come true.
And so here we are again, in a place all too familiar and yet completely different from 5 years ago. I thought it was easy to come up with 100 excuses in the past, but having a newborn gives you at least 150 of them. Part of me feels insanely embarrassed that I’m here again, but as I’ve realized in the past it’s better to just face the facts and get down to work.
In order to do that it’s time to pull out the old tricks from my bag: logging (does anyone remember my My Fitness Pal password?), monthly appointments with my RD/savior Andrea, and some good old fashioned Couch to 5K. Oh and you! In trying to figure out how I got there the first time I found myself pouring through old blog posts and reading over my entire story, from day one to the end. And I realized that yes, writing here helps keep me accountable. Even if no one is reading it. So I’m back in action. It may not be weekly (hell, I already am a day off from when I said I was going to write this), but my goal is to keep this up for as long as this journey continues… and let’s be honest it’s never ending for me. Now let’s go find the Half Ass Bad Ass and get her back.
Deep breath and here we go… again.