before dawn, lately

It’s 5:10 AM and the buzzing of my phone alarm beside my pillow signals it is time to get moving. I shuffle out of bed, put in my contacts, feed the cat, and start warming the kettle for my pour over coffee. By 5:45, I am out on the dark quiet sidewalk, starting my miles under the stars and the moon, if I am lucky. Sometimes I greet clouds or fog. An overcast sky is incredibly striking when lit by the streetlamps; the eerily punctuated ecru disappearing only as the sky itself brightens with the coming dawn. As the fall settles herself in, there are the mornings of bluster and rain. And certainly, more rain and wind to come…

Over the summer, I became an early morning runner. It started as a way to beat the heat. I figured if I could get in a run before 7:00 AM, I would enjoy some of the coolest and freshest air of the day. At first, it felt challenging to run so early. I had to fine-tune the amount of time I needed between waking up and lacing up my shoes. Rushing made me flustered, but too much time tempted me to stay in my slippers and drink another cup of coffee. I had to rewire my brain circuitry to reclaim the joy of running during a season when I had just returned to reliably uninterrupted nights of sleep. Despite all of these factors, I found the results of running before the rest of the day’s noise, panic, rhythm, and people to be irresistibly fortifying. The mornings, which I, as a working mother of two, had grown deeply accustomed to experiencing as frustrating, harried, and overwhelming, became, over time, a sanctuary for my own silence and movement.

I write, now, as a full convert to the daily morning run. I still enjoy my walks in the woods at lunch during the work week, and my long runs on the weekends and days away from the office, but the early morning miles are a particularly potent balm to mitigate stress and angst as I begin the day. And my mindset has changed from hoping that I can squeeze in a run after work, to returning home with the satisfaction that I am actually quite finished with the labors of the day, able to retire to the evening routine with my family. I joke with my dearest ones that morning running makes me less of an asshole when I get to the office. I am partially serious. In a new position with increased responsibilities from supervising to teaching, my days flow best when I begin with a full cup of empathy. Personally, running practice has always afforded me the quiet stillness, deep inside, from which to bloom thoughtful, productive, and loving sentiments.

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This summer I really felt a transformational leap in my running. I learned new trails, ran and hiked new mountains, and have found new approaches to maintaining a high weekly mileage without injury or burnout. Life is comprised of seasons, and the intensity of a running practice waxes and wanes. For the time being, I find returning home to a slumbering house after an entire adventure under the cover of the night’s last hours to be exactly right in this moment.

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June recap

June was a high-mileage month for me. I went into the month knowing I wanted to do a long solstice trail run from my house to the top of Chuckanut Mountain, so I was a bit more disciplined about adding in weekday miles, since I did not want to injure myself by being under-trained for a longer trail run. It was also an incredibly busy month for me until around the solstice, given that the university was in the last weeks of the academic year, and my work demands were at a fever pitch. I found that turning my focus toward running really helped get me through the month with a stable frame of mind. I experienced much more energy getting through the final weeks of the term than I have earlier this year, and I felt more relaxed about the outcome of situations, even under pressure. Another significant change in my life that has made space for more stamina is my reunion with uninterrupted sleep! Yes, the baby, now nearly 1.5, is finally night weaned and sleeping in his crib. My amazing partner does the nighttime parenting, if needed. After a 9 month pregnancy riddled with insomnia followed by a 16 month period of nursing on demand, including all night long… I am so forever grateful for my precious sleep. Oh, how I have learned to function convincingly under little-to-no sleep; how I prefer to function authentically with plenty of it!

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In the middle of the month, I ran the Berry Dairy Days half marathon, a local small town race the county over. It was the first time I have finished a half right around the 2:00 mark since early 2017. Even though my time was relatively speedy, I had a difficult time enjoying the race while I was running it. I think I was too exhausted, mentally, by that point to get excited about the 13.1 in front of me. It was a Sunday of a week that had me working all the way through Saturday. Waking up on a gloomy June morning and driving a half hour to Burlington was a bit painful as I longingly considered homemade waffle bar and another press of coffee with the family instead! Despite all of this, I did have some great miles from around mile 8-the finish. I think I needed an hour and some change to get into it.

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Toward the end of the month, I celebrated the solstice with a run (as is my annual tradition). This year, I decided to do something a little different and plot out a long trail run (around 20 miles a few thousand feet elevation) from my house to Lost Lake, up on the ridge of Chuckanut Mountain. I started the morning at around 6:30 AM by running to Arroyo Park, about a 7 mile route. Then I met a friend there for the Chuckanut portion of the trek, since I was feeling uneasy about running alone in the woods early on a Saturday morning (and once a seed of anxiety like that plants for me, I can’t enjoy my run). Luckily, Suzanne to the rescue! So we sauntered up the side of Chuckanut at a speed walk and then enjoyed a wonderful run on the ridge-line and along the lake and back on the Interurban to Arroyo. I was originally going to run a full 27 miles and complete the entire loop back at my house, but given burnout I had been feeling just the week before during the half marathon, I decided to end on a high note and ride back to town from Arroyo.

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Since then, I’ve been enjoying the temperate start to summer and lots of long runs in the woods. There is something so soothing about the greenery of ferns along a creek bed, the moisture protected and cooled by the shadows of Douglas firs and sandstone boulders. At the same time, there is a wildness to the abundance; more rustling in the branches than any other time of year. The deer linger with curious expressions in their eyes, rather than darting away. The baby rabbits scurry from one side of a blackberry corridor to the other hungrily. Even the birds are particularly strident as they retreat to a more natural lair. It is here, enveloped in this all, that my chest feels open, my heart bright, my feet delighting in the dance that seems only known to us.

Whidbey Island Marathon Recap

Two months ago, when I got snowed/iced out of running the half marathon I had trained for, I started looking at some spring training goals to get me through the rest of the winter. There are a number of reliably well-designed half marathons in the Pacific Northwest in April; it is one of the few months of the year here where you are more or less guaranteed mild weather conditions. I reached out to a good friend who is also an avid runner and walker and we started looking at some possibilities for a spring race. We went back and forth on schedules, pros and cons of different areas, and finally settled on Whidbey Island Marathon. Marathon, not Half-Marathon. Initially, the plan was to devise a run-walk interval approach, attempting to finish before the 6-hour cut-off. We found on a long run a few weeks before the race, however, that breaking up running with long periods of walking (for example, running three miles and walking one) expended energy in such a way that it really damaged overall stamina and energy. So we regrouped, aiming to frontload at least 16 miles of running followed by some combination of running and walking. To be honest, on marathon morning as we shuttled in the early dawn to Pass Lake, I still wasn’t quite sure how I was going to tackle the course. I had some plans sketched out, but I was also improvising.

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The first mile of the marathon took us across Deception Pass Bridge. If you haven’t been to Western Washington before and you ever end up here, rent a car, drive up the freeway to Burlington, and take Highway 20 through to Whidbey Island. You will not be disappointed. This bridge to the island is incredible, and the promise of this experience was enough to push us over the line to sign up for the full marathon rather than the half. It was a magical way to start, but it was also challenging in that the big ticket view was over and done with at the beginning of the race, and now more than 25 miles stretched out ahead of us. I felt slightly overwhelmed, even in the first three miles, as I came to terms with what I was doing. The night before, I enjoyed a warm, cozy, bed all to myself in an Airbnb with all of the amenities. I took a good long look at the slick road ahead, including all those hills, and dug in for a good long ride.

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I struggle to think of a single flat mile. Most of the race could be described as “rolling hills” although there were some larger hills every 2 miles or so that forced us to walk some brief intervals from the get-go. I think the hills, in some way, helped us achieve a run/walk balance that was more natural and forgiving within the broader context of a 26 mile run. At first, I focused on getting to the 10K mark, because I knew that would be about a quarter of the way in, and I would feel much warmer than I did at the beginning. Miles 6-13 were relatively uneventful. I kept up with Nuun, and either ate a bit of trail mix or some electrolyte slop about every hour. When we got to the half marathon mark, it was both thrilling and punishing; halfway there, but also… time to run another 13.1 miles. At this point, I found it helpful to start thinking about meeting smaller goals to keep myself going.  The first objective I focused on was getting to the 16 mile marker. My friend and I had recently run 16 miles together, so I knew we could get there and might feel better if we experienced passing the mile marker. After a brief hail storm at 16, I started thinking about 18. If we could get to 18, that would only leave 8 miles, or a medium-length run on any normal day of the week.

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Several minutes later, we reached the 18 mile marker. At this point, we were needing different things to complete the race. I was already fixated on seeing mile 20, because I wanted to get down to a 10K or less of running remaining. My friend’s IT band was irritated and she very smartly decided to ramp up her ratio of walking. My legs and hips were feeling very tired, but I was more concerned about the peripheral “wall” sensations I was starting to feel… the slow creep of hopelessness, cold extremities, and the overwhelming exhaustion of being spent. I was worried that if I did not keep running, I would not keep moving. So, we parted ways, I put in my earbud for the first time on the run, turned up some Doobie Brothers, and decided to run as much as I could to the finish.

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When I passed Mile 20, I thought I would be home free, but the marathon had other plans to make me work harder for my relief. A huge hill before the Mile 21 marker nearly caused me to sit on the shoulder and start crying. Feeling alone and discouraged, I started thinking about all the other people who were in my heart and what they would want me to do. I took out my phone and sent my best friend, now living across the country, a picture of the hill. I reflected on the feelings of love I have, for her, for my family, for my friend a mile or so behind me on the course. I started to imagine the love I had for the other runners on the course, these other strangers who set aside their lives, their jobs, their kids and families this weekend to pile into a musty shuttle and run from one county to another. I thought about the volunteers, high school track athletes, probably, or scouts with their parents huddled in camping chairs in the rain and cold from before the light of dawn until well after lunch. So many people around me were making the choice to give something of themselves that day, and losing myself in that meditation, I felt compelled to match their generosity and finish. It seemed that I unlocked something through this introspection, as the course itself curved gently downhill for most of the final 4 miles, and I was able to run the rest with very little disturbance or struggle.

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When I saw the finish line and the 4:45 pacer, I was overwhelmed with relief and also so incredibly proud of myself. Six years ago, I fought with every last cell of my body to get across the finish line in more than five and a half hours. On Sunday, I was able to run and finish a marathon in 4:44. I hold this as evidence of a few things. My running practice has become a much deeper part of my life in the past six years. I initially ran a marathon in 2013 as a type of capstone experience for my new (and probably temporary) running hobby. I had no idea that running would become such a central theme in my story. I also have learned, proven, and internalized that I can do hard things. From raising children to writing and defending a dissertation, I’ve strengthened my capacity for grit. I have more effective mental tools to support my persistence. The last thing is a little out there, but 4:44 has a lot of significance in my family as that is the time when we received a phone call from the hospital, many years ago, that my grandmother was hit by a car. Whether it is the trickery of my frontal lobe (most likely) or indeed a message from the spiritual realm (a stretch, perhaps), I certainly formed a new and positive association with this number, and I think my Nana would be delighted to know it.

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Overall, Whidbey Island Marathon provided me with challenge, catharsis, and realization. The course was absolutely beautiful, and I found the quiet and low-frills/no-crowds environment of the race to be exactly what I needed to turn inward and do heart work simultaneously with foot work. Something tells me it won’t be six years before I run another marathon.

a seasonally affected race day and other tales of winter blues

Over in Western Washington, we lovingly referred to the weather last week as Snowmageddon 2019. Indeed, after false hope that the extreme meteorological predictions were exaggerated, the snow started falling the weekend before last and proceeded to shut down the city for a good 48 hours, followed by days of terrible road conditions and over a foot of snow that was in no mood to melt (as I type this, some still remains on the ground). The half marathon I had been training for was scheduled for Sunday morning, and I was hopeful that after a week of frigid wintery weather, the thaw would have ample time to prepare the course for runners. The emails from the race director were cautiously optimistic—everyone seemed prepared to move forward with the event, even if there might be a few challenges along the route. The hopes I had for a successful race day were significantly hampered when I went out for a relaxed tempo run the morning before the half marathon. Even with Yaktrax on, I only made it three blocks before turning back home. The compacted snow was stubbornly transformed into large sheets of ice, punctuated by slippery bumps and grooves poised to twist ankles and trip feet. By Saturday afternoon, the email cancelling the race seemed almost inevitable. Disappointing outcome, but one that could not be avoided given the circumstances with weather and road conditions.

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This has been a bleak month in some ways. Beyond the fact that we are in the running for the coldest February on record in this region, my universe seems to be giving me difficult situations to digest. The baby was sick for much of the first half of the month, and the long hours of illness (with the accompanying sleepless nights, tired arms, aching back from carrying, cabin fever) blended into more than a week of school closures. My daughter struggled with a lack of routine. My best friend and original running buddy accepted an amazing job across the country and will move in a few weeks. While I am really excited for her, this is a big change and one that bring some sadness, as we adjust to a long distance relationship. Two coworkers with who I really enjoy working (one of whom is a mentor of mine) are retiring this summer. I find myself a bit untethered imagining the possibility of tackling the next academic year at work without them. My partner is about to take the comprehensive exams for his Ph.D. program, and the process of preparing creates a distinct stress that creeps its tentacles into every cranny of family life (I say this from a place of deep empathy, as I remember preparing for and taking my comps two and a half years ago, and it is incredibly taxing).

I was feeling overwhelmed by all of this yesterday morning. I felt that uncomfortable heaviness, when you desire more than anything the catharsis of tears, and yet the control mechanisms on my emotional filter were clamped down so tightly, I could not begin to cry. Without any other appealing option, I laced up my shoes and pushed myself out the door. And I ran those miles I could not earlier in the week; I once again returned to the comfort of breath and locomotion. Slowly, the swirling thoughts softened and lost their sting. The angst lessened and the weight lifted off my heart.

I came away from that run and some further reflection afterward with a new understanding. I am noticing opportunities in my life for development. Variables are shifting, and while there are new challenges, I am strong, smart, and good-humored enough to both persist and shape these opportunities into excitement and renewal. I was trained and prepared to run 13 miles two days ago. What a gift! Another race will present itself in the near future. My family will continue to strengthen by channeling empathy and curiosity as we meet the busy weeks ahead. My friendship enjoyed the rare benefit of nearly a decade of spontaneous in-person togetherness, but from that foundation, a promise of a new and adventurous chapter (including lots of travel) lies ahead, along with the organic departure from the immediacy of parenting a baby (as he and his sister both grow older). I see the work at hand as a charge to wade into the next several months equipped with my most successful tools. Yesterday reminded me that even during the bleakest darkest days, running remains one of those tools… and I was so very thankful for it when I returned home yesterday, hugged my children and partner, and reset my thinking about the future ahead.

milk & miles

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Running and breastfeeding are compatible activities that I have had the opportunity to enjoy with two babies. Each time I’ve learned something different, especially given that I did not start running regularly until my daughter was almost one, but I went back to running only a few weeks after giving birth to my son. In both cases, I learned how to keep the balance of logging miles and making milk for babies at different stages in their development and nutritional needs. I thought I would share a few insights in case it might be useful to a fellow mama runner (or friend/partner of one) in the future.

In the first six weeks of life, a newborn’s stomach is very small and breastmilk is metabolized quickly. Furthermore, so much of nursing fulfills needs far beyond nourishment. Hormones catalyzed during nursing sessions accomplish tasks ranging from bonding to shrinking the uterus and helping internal organs shift back into place. Skin-to-skin contact is important, the mother and baby should really smell one another in the holistic sense to keep these biochemical changes progressing. There are very few people who could jump up and go for a long run right after giving birth anyway (most of us are still in our adult diapers scarfing lukewarm meals one handed while crying over everything), but, needless to say, I think this is a time when breastfeeding should really take priority over any type of routine exercise.

During the fourth trimester, the first three months of a baby’s life, breastfeeding begins to hit a more routine stride. With my son, I started to really pursue running once he was about 2 months old. At this point, I could tank him up with milk before a nap, leave him snuggled with his dad, and enjoy 3 miles around the neighborhood without worrying. I planned to go back to work with both kids, so I began pumping pretty early on. As the months progressed, I felt confident going out for longer runs knowing that my partner could always give the baby a bottle if I wasn’t there.

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In my experience, by about 7 or 8 months, a baby is getting nourishment from some solids/table foods in addition to breastmilk, although breastmilk comprises the majority of the diet. This is when I felt like I could really enjoy longer runs without the pangs of worry about missing a nursing session. The challenge during this period for me with both babies was maintaining ample milk supply in the context of working and pumping. So I was pretty intentional about nursing both before leaving for a run and when coming back to keep my body in that routine (breastfeeding is, at a simplistic level, supply and demand). For longer race days, I’ve found that a small hand pump and cooler bag stashed in my gear bag has provided relief and or peace of mind when I need it. By the way, I have seen many nursing mothers pump before the start of races (you start to see it when you’ve done it!).

With babies and toddlers one and older, daytime nursing becomes more infrequent. I stopped pumping at one year with my daughter, and plan a similar schedule with my son, with the commitment to nurse at night/when I am home as long as we are both enjoying it. As a runner, I look forward to this chapter of the nursing journey because I inevitably earn back a lot of bodily autonomy and the logistics of pumping and nursing become nearly inconsequential. Keeping up good hydration and nutrition is the key to maintaining a milk supply for as long as is desired.

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Breastfeeding eats up about 500 calories a day, and quite a bit of fluid. I find it is much easier to become dehydrated when training and breastfeeding, so drinking a lot of water is really important. I start the morning by drinking 16 ounces minimum, right off the bat, before any coffee or other beverages. I also eat a lot of nourishing calories frequently through the day. Protein is often elevated to star status when we talk about diets for athletes, but carbohydrates and fats are foundational for both the glycogen stores one requires for regular running (especially distance running) and the ability for a body to make and sustain milk supply. Some of my staples in addition to complete meals are homemade banana bread with peanut butter on it, Greek yogurt with granola, hummus and pita, avocado and corn chips… you get the idea. I am constantly snacking, especially at night before I inevitably spend a few of my wake-ups nursing.

There is anecdotal data out there about how running changes the taste of milk, or how one should shower before nursing because the smell/taste of sweat is somehow a barrier to the baby nursing, but I’ve never experienced any issues. Supportive and comfortable sports bras are always important, but especially for a lactating runner as underwire or constriction can cause clogged ducts and other minor (albeit obnoxious) complications. Most of my running shirts already have a quarter zip at the neck, so nursing in my gear is usually simple. By the time a baby is approaching toddlerhood, they are usually too busy to demand nursing right away, anyway. Lately, I have enjoyed that transition as I now come home from my runs and cherish, with gratitude, the fact that I can take a hot shower uninterrupted before doing anything else.

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Running has made many things, including motherhood, so much healthier and more enjoyable for me. There is no reason why breastfeeding should be a barrier to maintaining a running practice; in fact, best practices for proactive self-care when nursing perform quite a bit of double duty for keeping a runner healthy and happy, as well.

return to distance

I am settling back into the routine of training for a half marathon after taking a year and a half away from distance running to be pregnant, give birth, and recover. There were a few races sprinkled in there, with running at shorter lengths comprising an increasingly regular part of my exercise schedule for the past year. I have to say that I am both glad I waited to embark on distance training, and that I am also filled with joy about being back to this beloved journey of gradually building endurance and physical strength to go long.

I have always framed running practice as a long-term relationship; there are seasons of life when other responsibilities and activities take priority over training, and then there are the openings that present themselves to return to a deeper commitment of time and energy. After a challenging fall of colds and sickness; one that required the patience to rest (admittedly something with which I struggle), I started to enjoy that natural paradigm shift, that changing orientation to possibility. The reward of returning to regular long runs is tremendous. I missed the self that emerges only during those solitary journeys—I missed that old friend inside of me. I missed the quiet—oh, the quiet! I love my children, but I think most mothers of young kids would agree that there is nothing like an uninterrupted thought. I missed the nothingness, the plateau of hitting the zone, when time and effort recede to the background hum, and the flight of the body becomes one with the mind.

I am revisiting a half marathon I ran three years ago, when I was at my fastest speed. I do not expect to touch this record. Bodies evolve and goals shift. I desire two things: to run the entire course, and to finish. And while the final outcome of race day excites me, I have to admit that the process of getting there is my prize this time around. One foot ahead of the other, breath locked in relaxed rhythm, the changing landscape ahead welcoming me along.

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being with running, reclaiming myself

It’s been some time since I last updated this blog. There were certainly topics I wanted to write about, but finding the opportunity was a challenge. In the half year since I wrote, I defended a dissertation and earned my doctorate, took maternity leave, returned to work, kept two humans alive, and found my way back to running.

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After my son was born, I was immediately thrown into the intensity of defending my dissertation while sometimes going more than 24 hours without genuine sleep. My postpartum anxiety monster gnashed its teeth intensely, often appearing at one or two in the morning. Sometimes the tension and creaking of my own jaw would keep me from resting my head completely on the pillow. Like most (or perhaps every) new mothers, I held solitary nocturnal vigil. Wide-eyed and unmoving, I would listen to the baby breathing. After nursing, the hourglass would reset, and I would battle insomnia through the despair of hoping for another 90 minutes of “sleep” before the next feeding. My saving graces in these months were two rituals. First, I left the house every day, sometimes more than once a day, and walked outdoors with the baby. It was not uncommon for me to walk for 8 or 9 miles a day. The movement and fresh air was an anchor that kept me present in the here and now of the natural world; ushering me in to a safe space of familiarity and reflection at a time when it was challenging simply to converse with other people (let alone take on the entertaining we are often left to haphazardly burden ourselves with as new mothers receiving guests). Second, I started attending an antepartum support group. Every Thursday morning, I’d walk myself and my baby to the neighborhood women’s health collective and observe the sacred 90 minutes of sharing without judgement or advice. It was the medicine I needed to stay well.

As the summer began, the fog started to lift, and I slowly began to feel myself again. My sleep became more regular; the anxiety subsided, and I returned to some normalcy. Going back to work was a positive shift. I found renewed energy and space for family and friends. The baby became more interactive. I had more time for my oldest, time for the one-on-one connections and activities that were snatched away right after the arrival of the second. I feel so well and complete again; balanced and empowered. And my running practice reclaimed its position in my priorities, once again a welcome routine.

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Motherhood is hard and exhausting. Time soothes the aches, but at its own pace. And although I feel strong and capable of handling the daily trials of work, family, and everything else, I am aware of how easy it is to become overwhelmed by commitments and tasks in a society forever praising us for being busy and thinly spread. I especially reflect on this conflict as a person who craves involvement and participation, who seeks to learn by doing. Some days, many days, I feel like there are not enough hours. And, I often remember that I am still operating from a position where sleep may be scarce.

As I launch into the school year, my calendar replete with volunteer obligations, my activities, and my daughter’s activities; the schedules of an elementary school, a daycare, a university, and my partner’s Ph.D. dissertation looming on the horizon, I am especially grateful for my running practice. Because, unlike many activities, I feel that running is a “being” rather than a “doing.” I feel that running creates the space and time for myself rather than taking away from it. It is self-care that provides me with an escape. To simply move through beautiful surroundings, one foot behind the other, hearing my own breath and my own heart.

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During some seasons of my practice, running has been a “doing”—extremely goal-oriented, athletic, and competitive. However, as I ride the wave through the rest of this postpartum year, running is simply the place I go when all other aspects of my life appear full to capacity (or perhaps even sloshing over the sides). I keep moving forward.

Postpartum Update

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I am writing you from the other side of the pregnancy journey—our baby boy made his appearance three weeks ago on Groundhog Day. I was able to experience another natural labor and birth that was thankfully free from complications and relatively easy-going. Labor itself was more of a marathon than a sprint, with prodromal labor for days leading up to the birth, and everyone expected the real deal to move quickly. Instead, I spent the night at the birth center with an active labor that kept starting and stalling. I dilated to almost 9 centimeters without my water breaking, and the baby’s head couldn’t move down and engage. As the sun rose, my husband and I ended up taking a walk around the neighborhood and getting coffee. When we returned without any changes (other than bagels and mochas), I elected to have my water broken. About one intense hour later, Ruben emerged from some fast and furious pushes. I was relieved to be done with pregnancy and birth!

I learned from my older child that the first week postpartum is the true test of survival. Therefore, I took it very easy this time. I shunned away visitors and stuck to my bed. Even so, I had an itch to get fresh air every day, and by the end of the week, I was doing a little mile loop around the neighborhood. As I continued to heal, I resumed my walking practice, and now I am happily up to my pre-birth daily mileage. When I head out to walk, baby snuggly resting in his carrier, I feel like I am putting on an oxygen mask. It is soothing to connect with nature, get my blood pumping, and return to my favorite hobby—observing the minutia of the changing seasons (we’ve had everything from sunshine and blossoms to snow storms the past two weeks).

I am finally starting to feel up to testing out a return to running in the coming days. I plan to ease in with short distances, and a run/walk combination. In addition to walking, I am working on rebuilding core strength (especially after pushing out a 9-pound baby). I feel like my body is gradually falling back into place. I put myself to bed very early, and sleep when I can. The experience of birth is often described as a fog, and I find the comparison to be quite accurate. Day by day, the misty cloud cover dissipates, and the surroundings come into a slightly clearer view. The newness becomes normal, and a return to routine is found. I continue to feel as though an active pregnancy and postpartum recovery (as soon as I was able to return to activity) facilitated a much easier transition this time. I look forward to running some miles in the very near future!

Active Pregnancy: A Retrospective

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At 35 weeks pregnant, with the baby the size of a honeydew melon, I truly feel as though I am in the home stretch. This pregnancy was different from my first in a number of ways. Most of the “you’ll see” advice about second pregnancies feeling less monumental I received turned out to relatively valid; I felt, and continue to feel, more excited about the baby at the end of this journey rather than my changing body. However, this experience has been punctuated by moments of grounding myself in and truly appreciating the fascinating process of growing a human life. Despite the aches, pains, and exhaustion, I find myself quite proud of my changing body, the work it has undertaken to sustain me and the growing baby.

I started out this pregnancy with the intention of remaining as active as possible, and I am glad that I maintained this norm throughout. During the first trimester, running felt almost unchanged; I adjusted now and then for energy levels and bathroom breaks, but remained relatively steadfast in my daily miles. During the second trimester, I continued to run, but started to incorporate walking and hiking much more intentionally. My hips and pelvis were starting to widen; and as my organs shifted around, I found that running lost some of its comfort. When I began to face diminishing returns on those feelings of freedom and euphoria during a run, I knew it was time to slow down and taper off. By the beginning of the third trimester, I was ready for a hiatus from pounding the pavement. Almost organically, and perhaps in exchange for scaling back my running, I experienced a second wind in my mental focus. By writing every day during the months of November and December, I was able to complete a full draft of my dissertation by the year’s end. I continue to walk at least 5 miles a day (more on the weekends), which has been an amazing gift to my health, fitness, and mental stability. I have found other ways to encounter the joy and connection with nature that sustain my resilience. Last week, I ended the year by walking a trail half marathon. For me, this experience reaffirmed that my body and brain are strong and capable, and that the return to running is out there, waiting.

My midwives have provided encouragement and listening ears through my seasons of active pregnancy. They understood that my temporary disengagement with running is, at times, bittersweet. I ache to run, deep in my bones. I see other runners and I want to spring forward and join them. This is a time of recognizing that absence does make the heart grow fonder. Perhaps some of the most affirming words during this time, came from one of my midwives who encouraged me to visualize my life after birth. “Just think,” she said, “after your body heals from the birth and you creep out of that newborn fog, there will be buds and blossoms on the trees. The days will be longer. The birds will be chirping. And you will be running again… what a wonderful time to start.”

I straddle the present and the future. As I continue my daily walks in the woods, through the dreary January rains, I focus on the beauty of nature surrounding me. I feel a connection to this cycle of nature, of turning inward and hibernating, of doing the invisible work, underground, only to emerge in several weeks’ time with a fertile openness. And in quiet moments, especially in the dark hours of the early morning when I am inexplicably unable to sleep, I soothe my mind by imagining the sound of my feet and the roll of the jogging stroller along my backyard trails, under the pink hue of cherry tree branches and the gold catkins of the alders.

The Joys of a Small House

I know I usually write about running, but I am going to take the time to explore something different today…

More than five years ago, my husband and I started the process of buying our first house. After renting across different neighborhoods and parts of town, experiencing everything from apartments that made you wonder each morning if your car would have all its windows intact, to a sleepy house in a dark wooded community with poor insulation and happy-go-lucky ants, we found ourselves approaching the market with an impending heavy sense of permanency. He is a country mouse and I am a city mouse, but by all standards, we were both very lucky to grow up in spacious family homes with wonderful back yards and, quite uniquely, houses that remain in our family to this day. Neither of us had moved around much as kids, and with our own baby daughter quickly gaining her mobility, we were hungry to put down roots and find our Family Home.

We looked at many different houses. Some were suburban and expansive. Some appeared straight out of the Brady Bunch. Others were Victorian, narrow, and only slightly terrifying. Houses that had curb appeal only to be followed by crumbling interiors. Houses that were beautiful but somehow not quite right. Houses that were right on busy thoroughfares; houses in the middle of developments devoid of sidewalks. Finally, a completely unremarkable house was listed in the area of town of our dreams. A place where tree-lined streets and old houses preserved a neighborhood feel that could not be duplicated by cul-de-sac; a place where overgrown gardens and backyard chickens bordered the alleys; where the local elementary school had no bus service because every child assigned lived within a ten minute walk. We fell in love, and we put in an offer on a house that was home to several generations of college renters, beige carpets oddly stained, white-washed walls hiding, I’m sure, a multitude of sins over the years, and a large fenced backyard overgrown with bindweed.

Over the years, this house has become a member of our family. Slowly, we made improvements to the place; doing what we could afford at a piecemeal pace. The windows were updated and the floors replaced; the walls painted and appliances upgraded. Gardens were built and tended. Our hodgepodge of furniture was configured and reconfigured over and over again to achieve new pathways and spaces. Baby-proofing gave way to play spaces. Play spaces are now giving way to homework spaces. As we embark on the addition of a second child, we must once again find spots and corners for the playpen and the highchair… the swing, the crib…

Our house is small. It is not tiny, but it was built in 1903, when living quarters responded to needs and not luxuries. A transplant from the Midwest built the house for his new bride. There, they lived with her parents and the children that followed. Several other families inhabited the house over the decades, through bad winters, through wars, through illness… and here it is, still standing. As I like to tell my family and friends, the house is full of happy ghosts. Sometimes I think about what it must have been like with several children living under that roof. It gives me pause for thought as I find myself craving, from time to time, the type of basement rec room that could hide away all the toys.

Our house is small, but it is joyful. Of course we dwell on how immediately pleasurable it would be to live in a larger footprint, to have separate bathrooms, rooms tucked away for specific functions, and ample space for guests. But, as I have continued to experience the privilege of living in this old house, there are so many things for which I am grateful. Our family lives a life connected; you can always hear where anyone else is. The creaking floors of an aging house give away clues to the whereabouts, even of our cat, when she attempts to hide. We don’t stay angry, because we can’t stay angry. There aren’t enough square feet to ensconce oneself in a fortress of solitude; the hallways are narrows and the bedrooms are close. One person’s bad day quickly becomes a family snuggle on the bed and an invitation for the sweetest empathy and comfort. Our stuff isn’t that important. We get rid of things without much attachment; there is no garage or basement in which to store crates of tchotchkes we will never again lay eyes on. Over the years, we’ve become much more discerning about what we will bring in. We spend most of our time physically together; our rooms are nearly all common spaces. The activities of living, from making coffee in the morning to brushing teeth at night are experienced in the intimate community of family. The table is a magnet for activity; it pulls us in for meals and for arts and crafts; for math worksheets and dissertation research. Off the kitchen, it is never far from a plate of crackers or a mug of tea. We live at our table. Because our living spaces are smaller… we go outside! A lot! After dinner walks are a ritual that provide us with that breathing space away from the immediate clutter of dirty dishes. We hike, we run, we tend to be active outdoors and tired indoors. A small house is wonderful for being tired and cozy. At night, I can hear the whole house breathe and settle. I can sense my daughter sleeping and well… though down the hall, she is very near. We feel a closeness.

As I reflect on these joys, I feel great fortune to live out a continuing history of family life within the studs and walls of this old house. When I was a child, my family would go to Finland for a few weeks every summer to stay in a rustic summer cabin by a lake. Childhood memory is a fickle phenomenon. Even though those weeks at the summer home were insignificant in length, compared to the rest of the year, they remain the scene for the bulk of my detailed memories. During those summer weeks, we traded our large family home on the hillside for a much simpler life. We slept in a one-room cabin, one larger bed on one side and a metal bunk-bed set on the other. Many nights, and probably at the expense of my parents’ rest, all four of us would end up in the larger bed together. I think I remember these weeks so particularly well because of the fact that we spent so much time in close togetherness. You couldn’t really stomp off and slam a door in any of the small cabins on the property. Stuff was minimal, and most play quickly became imaginary. The outdoors beckoned, and transformed into the ultimate living space. I think of this fondly and bridge it to my own experiences living in our home.

Sometimes I look at newly constructed “family” homes, and I am in awe of the attention paid to sequestering the activities of daily living. I can think of many homes I’ve seen where not even kids had to share bathrooms; each bedroom came with a television; the dining spaces, while expansive, had no marriage to a kitchen. Adults have their own wing; rooms become proprietary… In other words, I could look at the space and appreciate the temptation, but also realize how it invited isolation. Frankly, I think all in my family are better people for the requirement that we share our spaces and our stuff. We must grow naturally to consider each other’s routines, quiet time, needs, and interests. And while we sometimes squeeze to accommodate guests at our table and around our couches, our house is a home that fits us quite well. Let the joy of living closely continue through the seasons ahead.