Some people say that pregnancy is a marathon, not a sprint. And while I think pregnancy is just as hard as a marathon, in my opinion being pregnant is like running an ultramarathon. Since I’ve been missing the longer distances and trails lately, I decided to write down all the ways being pregnant is similar to an ultramarathon.
How Being Pregnant Is Like Running an Ultramarathon
- Nights Kinda Suck – Some ultramarathoners love running in the twilight hours. For me, the second that Sun sets, all I want is to be back in my bed. I love running during the day, but running at night is not a good time for me. Similarly, I tend to find that pregnancy is most difficult during the overnight hours. While lots of well-meaning people will tell you to “get all the sleep you can now,” I don’t generally have the best luck trying to snooze while being kicked in the ribs and struggling to get comfortable.
- Lots of Snacks – The absolute best part of an ultramarathon are the aid stations. They are nothing like marathons that are generally limited to gels and water. Ultramarathon aid stations have the best of the best; Oreo’s, candy, trail mix, Pringles, and quesadillas. And stopping to walk and enjoy a snack is more than encouraged in an ultramarathon; it’s vital. During pregnancy, I’ve personally found it difficult to eat large meals, but I sure am hungry. Just like in long distance running, snacking can be a lifesaver during pregnancy.
- Chaffing Can Kill – Speaking of saving lives, there is one running product that I absolutely cannot live without. Both in ultramarathons, and during pregnancy, I heavily rely on Squirrels Nut Butter. Because chaffing is a real issue when you spend hours sweating on the trail. Just like it can become a real problem when you’re swollen and gaining weight in pregnancy.
- GI Distress – I’ve been very open with my struggles with hyperemsis during my first trimester. While I haven’t had many vomiting episodes since week 16, that doesn’t mean my stomach loves pregnancy. There’s a whole lot of ways that pregnancy can wreck your digestion. The same is true for ultrarunning. Despite your best efforts, most long distance runners have at least one horror story that involves an emergency stop on the side of the trail. Few things can turn your stomach the way an ultramarathon can; pregnancy is one of those things.
- There’s Swelling – Before my first ultra, I expected that there would be a lot of stiffness and sore muscles during and after my race. What I wasn’t prepared for was just how much my feet, ankles, and lower legs would swell. It’s very similar to the swelling I experience in the last trimester of pregnancy, which can demand that I get off my feet as quickly as possible in both scenarios.
- Delirium & Mood Swings – Pregnant women are known for wildly vacillating moods. Hormones and fatigue can be a real B. Unfortunately, ultrarunners often experience the same kind of mood swings during a race or long run. It’s not uncommon to see a runner with a smile at one aid station, and then throwing an absolute fit at the next.
- The End Is 17x Longer Than the Beginning – There’s a long running joke that the there are 28-31 days in every month. Except the last month of pregnancy, which is 2938742987 days long. And unfortunately, lots of well-meaning strangers will try to remind you how “close” you are to the finish; both during pregnancy and during a race. While it may seem like you’re almost done to everyone around you, the last third of an ultramarathon and pregnancy both feel like they are exponentially longer than the first third.
- No Sleep Afterwards – I was not at all prepared for just how crappy I would sleep after an ultramarathon. I sort of assumed I would just fall into a nice, quiet coma afterwards. In reality, as exhausted as I was, body aches, leg cramps, and a very confused body and mind kept me from sleeping anywhere near soundly. In fact, after an ultramarathon, I sleep a lot like I do in the first few weeks after bringing a baby home. I wake up every few hours, exhausted, disoriented, uncomfortable, and also unable to go back to sleep immediately. It’s kind of a cruel joke in both situations, especially since you’re more fatigued than you’ve ever been in your life.
- A Good Bra is Essential – There isn’t anything very comfortable about running an ultramarathon. Or being pregnant. So let’s just say that in both situations, you need all the support you can get.
- You’ll Ask Yourself “Why” A Million Times – When you set out to run 30+ miles at one time, it’s pretty important that you know exactly why you are embarking on such a mission. Because you will question your decision more times than you could ever expect. The same thing happens, for me, during the first and third trimesters of pregnancy when my body feels like it is breaking. In both cases, the discomfort is certainly worth it. But don’t be surprised when you have to remind yourself of that fact multiple times in one hour. Or one mile.
- There’s Blood, Sweat, & Tears – Few things have wrecked my body and mind the way that running an ultramarathon has. One of those things is pregnancy. When you’re training for an ultra, you prepare yourself for the cuts, scrapes, bruises, and mental meltdowns. Don’t expect to do anything less for pregnancy, because believe me when I say there is no shortage of blood, sweat, and tears throughout the process.
- Tantrums Are Expected – God bless my husband. That man has crewed me and seen me have full on meltdowns on the side of the trail. He’s fielded complaint sessions, listened to be scream and yell, and given be a pat on the butt when he’s sent back out on a dark trail with a half-functioning headlamp. He’s also held my hand while I cried about not being able to keep anything down and when I’ve screamed in frustration dealing with pregnancy-induced insomnia. That saint of a man has come to expect that anytime I am pregnant or running an ultramarathon, he can expect that there will be tantrums.
- The Finish Is Never Where They Say It Is – This is one of the most mentally exhausting aspects of ultramarathons and pregnancy. While the race may be advertise as a 50k or 100 miler, don’t be surprised when you come to realize there are “bonus miles” at the end that separate you from the finish. The same thing happens for a lot of pregnant women. We get a nice due date that we mark on a calendar, but for a lot of women that day comes and goes with no baby to show for it. Even when you prepare yourself for the fact that you’re going to be running further than you had planned, or that you will probably be pregnant beyond those 40 weeks, it’s still enough to make you lose your shit.
Nine months is a long time to spend growing a human being. 30+ miles is a long way to run on your own two feet. Both experiences are hard and rewarding and exhausting all at the same time. Honestly, it surprises me that I’ve done ultramarathons and pregnancy more than once. But I do have to admit that there is nowhere I’d rather than be than on the trails, or with my kid. So with that in mind, I guess it makes sense that being pregnant is a lot like running an ultramarathon.